St George Illawarra have silenced the doubters and regained some winning momentum heading into the finals with a come from behind 24-14 win over the Newcastle Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium.
After hitting rock bottom last week when their own fans booed them from the field, the Dragons were without a try in the first half, before storming home for the 10-point win.
Newcastle came into the match buoyed by the occasion of Old Boys' Day, but it was a nervous start, making two errors in their opening four sets of six.
The Dragons took a 2-0 lead through a Zac Lomax penalty and then looked to have the opening try when a Ben Hunt kick was dropped by the Knights and Jack de Belin raced away to put the ball down under the posts. But on closer review the kick chasers were inside the 10 when the error was made, giving Newcastle a penalty.
Match: Knights v Dragons
Round 25 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
The Knights made the most of the reprieve with Ken Sio finishing off a backline play to score his 11th try of season and give Newcastle a 4-2 lead.
The Dragons were again denied by the Bunker when Lomax appeared to score, only for the officials to rule he failed to ground the ball.
St George Illawarra were just gaining momentum and had a chance to draw level when they were awarded a penalty right in front. But in a sign of their luck in recent weeks, it hit the post, giving possession back to Newcastle.
After being on the back foot for most of the half, the Knights eventually had their chances to attack, through repeat sets on the back of Dragons errors but the home side couldn't make it count on the scoreboard.
The Knights enjoyed 65% of possession in the first half and cashed in on that to extend the lead when a Michell Pearce cross-field kick ended up on the deck for Shaun Kenny-Dowall to ground the ball.
Trailing 10-2, the Dragons looked dangerous early in the second half getting multiple sets on the Knights' line – and it did not take long for the defence to crack, with Jeremy Latimore barging over under the posts to make it 10-8.
However, just as they were starting to get momentum, the visitors let the Knights off the hook with a fifth tackle penalty – allowing Newcastle to go on the attack. But the Dragons dug deep, with Jordan Pereira pulling off a stunning trysaver on Mitch Barnett when the hosts appeared to have the overlap in a tryscoring position.
The Red V soon made it count on the scoreboard, with Nene Macdonald turning on the afterburners to scorch away and give his side the lead with 21 minutes remaining.
An error from Knights fullback Nick Meaney 20 metres out from the Dragons line saw Matt Dufty race away for a long distance try to make it 18-10.
Just as Dragons fans started to relax the Knights hit back when a perfectly placed cross kick from Pearce was collected by Sio for a try in the corner and the margin was back to four with eight minutes to play.
The crowd erupted when Barnett crossed following a Dufty knock on, which could have been the match-winner, but on closer examination by the Bunker, it was ruled a double knock-on.
Pereira put the icing on the cake after he swooped on a dropped ball by Sione Matautia and the Dragons had the morale-boosting win they desperately needed on the eve of the finals.
News & Notes: Dragons forward Jeremy Latimore scored his first try of the season in his 23rd game... The Knights will finish the season with the worst for and against (-193) but avoided the wooden spoon for the first time in four years... Crowd: 24,662.